Off-Duty Fight Leads to Firing

Violence among Postal Service workers has been a big problem for the agency. When a fight involving a deadly weapon erupted at a union picnic, the agency took action. The employee who was fired appealed because the incident did not occur at work.

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the removal of a Postal Service employee who was involved off-duty in a fight involving deadly weapons. (White v. United States Postal Service, U.S.C.A.F.C. No. 05-3339 (non-precedent), 4/10/06)

While attending the Mail Handler’s Union picnic in Jacksonville, FL, Mr. White and a co-worker got into a fight during which Mr. White admits he brandished a knife.

Following an agency investigation, White was removed for improper conduct. The Merit Systems Protection Board upheld his removal. (White v. United States Postal Serv., No. AT-0752-05-0286-I-1 (M.S.P.B. May 2, 2005))

In his court appeal, White argued that because the fight was off-duty, the Board had erred in finding that nexus had been established. The court clearly did not agree: “…White’s fellow employees remained concerned about what had happened and complained about the incident to their supervisor. We therefore agree with the Board’s findings and reasoning that White’s misconduct against his fellow employee, in front of many co-workers at a union-sanctioned event, had a chilling effect upon relationships at the workplace which can only adversely impact the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission with proper efficiency.” (Opinion, p. 5)

White also argued that the penalty was too harsh.

He pointed out that the fellow he fought had resigned from the agency, therefore “the likelihood [sic] of this incident spilling over at the workplace would have been moot.” (p. 6)

Pointing out that penalty is in the sound discretion of the employing agency and that the court would not lightly disturb this determination, the court did not buy White’s suggestion that his penalty should have been a suspension. The court underscored the Board’s finding that “White displayed no remorse and left the AJ with the distinct impression that he would have done exactly the same thing again.” (p. 6)

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.